By Wesley Wells
I remember the day back in the summer of 2014 when I heard the news that Jet Magazine would no longer be publishing. I remember the confusion that I had and asked, how could this happen? I grew up reading Jet and its sister magazine, Ebony, just as I’m sure many of you did. I won’t be shy, and some know what I’m talking about. The first page you flipped to when you opened your copy of Jet was…of course, the Jet beauty of the month page.
Ebony continued to publish until it ceased printing in 2019. These two magazines were the leading publications that dealt with the Black way of life for decades. Their role in our lives had tremendous effect on the way we lived and the way we saw things. They fit a need, as did the numerous Black-owned newspapers across the country, telling our story the way it needed to be told.
Jet Magazine was the first major magazine to print the photos of Emmitt Till’s mutilated body. That magazine cover photo, which white-owned publications refused to print, helped change the nation as Americans got a first-hand look at what was really going on in the south. Black media was needed. That photo alone helped change the approach to the civil rights movement.
Throughout time, mainstream media has mostly misrepresented or underrepresented the African-American community. Racial segregation was the norm all the way up to the 70’s, especially in the south. So Black media was critical in providing news content to the community. It was so important back then for Black media to be able to provide some truth and a sense of hope because traditional media mostly created a negative image of Black communities.
Some may ask is there a need for Black media today? Some may think things have changed for the better and everything is on equal ground. I would answer that first question with a resounding, yes! You never miss the need for being able to tell your own story. I remember a speech by best-selling author Stedman Graham. He talked about when someone else defines you, they will always define you as less. It is so important that we be able to tell our own story on our own terms.
I know media encompasses different things. You have print, radio, TV, and now, social media. There are still over 100 Black newspapers across the country to my knowledge. Many different magazines that are distributed nationally and locally. Some are doing really well, but many are struggling. But to keep going and finding a way to survive is important. The need has never went away.
The Black media has also always played a role in dealing with Crises. Trust matters and Black media has always been a catalyst for truth. Even today with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black media has played a critical role in helping this ordeal.
The thing I like most about what I do is I get the opportunity to portray images. Some news reports may like to show Blacks robbing, shooting or other negative connotations. That’s only a small part of what I see out of the Black community. I see business people with wholesome families, doing great things in their communities. That’s my job as Black media to show what I see. That gives me the power to influence thoughts of other races of people in my community. And different thoughts can lead to different behaviors.
Perception matters and it’s important that we are able to create that positive perception that others just don’t see from mainstream media most of the time. Not only do I want to uplift our Black community, but I want to show the White community more of what we are about, not just what they see on mainstream news. We are full of greatness and it’s up to Black media to tell that to everyone else.
Just one thing I’d urge some to remember is the struggle of Black media. Most who do it are aware of the difficulties. Advertising dollars are always limited (Unfairly, but this is a story for another day), but we hang in there because we love our communities and want our citizens to have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.